By Zia Ur Rehman
2-8 September, 2011
On August 17, Amjad Peshawari’s body was found in a sack in Nazimabad. “He was a tailor’s apprentice and had nothing to do with politics,” his sister said. “They killed him because he was a Pashtun.”
Amjad was among about 200 people killed in violence since the beginning of August, and among more than 1,400 people killed for political or ethnic reasons this year so far.
As ethnic tensions in the Karachi increase, a large number of those killed, according to statistics, are Pashtuns. Dozens of shops and restaurants that belonged to Pashtuns were set on fire.
Karachi hosts the largest urban Pashtun population that surpasses Peshawar, Quetta and Kandahar. Migration of Pashtuns from the northwest to Karachi began during Ayub Khan’s regime, when the economic boom and rapid industrialisation created new opportunities of employment, especially in the construction, textile and transport sectors. The hardworking Pashtuns were ready to take the low-wage jobs that the locals did not want. This was because of a lack of economic opportunities in their own province. The Pashtun contributed significantly to the economy of Karachi through labour, petty jobs and small trade. There were about 1.3 million Pashtuns in the city at the time of the 1998 census – 14 percent of the city’s entire population.
But the demography changed as new Pashtun migrants arrived from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Tribal Areas in the 2000s, particularly because of the 2005 earthquake and counter-insurgency operations from 2007 to 2011. According to new estimates, Pashtuns are now 22 percent of Karachi’s population. The changes in demography also change the political realities in the city.
Karachi has a history of urban ethnic violence which has increased since 2007. Relations between Mohajirs (Urdu speaking ethnic community) and Pashtuns have remained tense. Pashtuns mostly live in western and eastern parts of city including Sohrab Goth, Mingophir, SITE Town, Qasba Colony, Landhi Insdustrial Area, Korangi Industrial Area, Kemari, Baldia Town, Sultanabad and Pipri.
Experts believe that long ignored mass migration and settlement patterns resulted in a serious societal breakdown, leading to even serious conflict. Dr Marvin Weinbaum, a researcher at the Middle East Institute, says the Pashtuns have often left the Tribal Areas to seek their fortune in Pakistan’s economic hub Karachi, and this migration has made the Mohajirs very uneasy. “Here we have two very different cultures coming into contact with one another and again fighting over scarce resources, fighting for turf,” Weinbaum said in an interview with the Voice of America. “And a lot of it, then and now, continues to be in the category of simple criminality, which gets an ethnic patina on it.”
Arif Hasan, a prominent urban planner, believes that the failure of state institutions, bad governance and ethnicisation of politics are key factors that fuel ethnic violence and tensions in the city and strengthen ethnic political groups. “Because of the collapse of the state institutions, ethnic political groups are consulted for employment or admissions in educational institutions, and other administrative issues. As a result, these ethnic parties exploit ethnic communal support for political and personal interests,” he said.
Pashtuns, despite being second largest ethnic community, are politically underrepresented and have been kept backwards by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)-led district and provincial governments, complains Shahi Syed, president of Awami National Party (ANP) in Sindh. The discrimination against Pashtuns in Karachi was exacerbated during Gen Pervez Musharaf’s regime when he completely handed over Karachi and Hyderabad to the MQM, he alleged. “The fight in Karachi is not the fight of Pashtuns or ANP. It is a fight for control of Karachi by MQM that says Karachi and Hyderabad are theirs and no one else’s,” he claims. “According to the 1973 constitution, every Pakistani can live and do business in every city of the country. He accuses MQM of running a propaganda calling all Pashtuns Taliban. “They want this myth to be perpetuated to rid Karachi of Pashtuns.”
Karachi’s Pashtuns have traditionally aligned themselves with religious parties, but in the last few years the ethnic-based ANP has successfully projected itself as sole representative of the community.
“Rejecting the ethno-lingual politics of the ANP, Pashtuns of Karachi had voted for religious parties in 2002 general elections and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) had four Pashtun members in Sindh Asssembly and one in the National Assembly from Karachi,” said Ishaq Khan, a Pashtun leader of Jammat-e-Islami (JI), who heads the party in Karachi’s Pashtun-dominated west district. He said the ANP won two seats from Karachi this time because of an arrangement with the Pakistan People Party, and because the JI boycotted the polls.
“Of the victims of violence, around 75 percent were Pashtuns who had nothing to do with armed gangs or ANP but were killed only for basis of ethnicity,” he said.
The violence of on May 12, 2007 was a key event in Karachi’s ethnic history when dozens of Pashtuns – who wanted to welcome then-deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry – were killed. ANP’s support increased after that.
“Ethnic riots and violence did take place between 1985 and 1988, but our leaders met and reached a conclusive peace accord,” says a former leader of ANP. He said (late) Wali Khan and Altaf Hussain wanted to end ethnic violence between the two communities and they did end it at that time. But the two parties are not ready to negotiate a new truce right now.
MQM outrightly rejects ANP’s claims. It also insists it does not represent only Mohajirs. “Pashtuns don’t have economic clashes with Mohajirs. It is a wrong perception,” Gul Faraz Khattak, a Pashtun member of Rabita Committee of MQM, said in an interview. “Not all Pashtuns support the ANP. Some elements fuel ethnic violence in the city to protect their illicit businesses.” Khattak said MQM was interested in talked to the ANP if that could end ethnic violence, but the ANP leadership is not interested.
Abdul Waheed, an Asoka fellow and a social activist working in education sector in Katti Pahari, one of the areas worst hit by violence, said things were worsening. “Internal migration within the city has started because of ethnic violence and people are under pressure to sell property and move to the neighbourhoods where their ethnic community is in majority,” he said.
“Hospitals, schools and roads are now segregated on ethnic grounds and people are reluctant to go to the neighbourhoods where rival ethnic groups live,” Waheed said. “People are just being picked off the streets and killed because of their ethnic background.”
A number Pashtuns are abandoning the city, leaving behind their property and businesses. “It was very difficult for me to stay in Karachi any longer,” said Arshad Ali, a resident of Nusrat Bhutto Colony in Karachi. “I could not go to work and my children could not go to school.” Arshad has moved his family back to Swat. Many like him are thinking of doing the same. The only problem is, there are no jobs back home.
The writer is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org